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Hume Studies Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002, pp. 149-153 Book Reviews STEPHEN BUCKLE. Hume's Enlightenment Tract: The Unity and Purpose of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 2001. Pp. xiv + 351. ISBN 0-19-825088-6, cloth, £40.00, $55.00. An excellent companion to Hume's first Enquiry, Stephen Buckle's study offers a systematic overview of Hume's philosophy from the standpoint of his later period. Buckle hopes to instill new interest in the importance of Hume's Enquiry, against the tide of what he sees as excessive enthusiasm for Hume's early philosophy, represented by A Treatise of Human Nature. Buckle laments the trend, especially in undergraduate philosophy courses, of selectively anthologizing bits and pieces of the Enquiry, while preferring the Treatise as the more definitive, or at least the more interesting or teachable, of Hume's writings. Buckle wants not only to take the Enquiry out of the shadow of the Treatise into its own light, but to go further in restoring balance to their distorted relation, making a case for the greater relative importance of the Enquiry over and above the Treatise. Buckle's argument is developed on several fronts. He addresses some of the misinterpretations that have surrounded Hume's own statements of attitude toward the Treatise and the first Enquiry. He characterizes Hume's project in his early and later works, comparing the two books with respect to their overall designs and the maturing of Hume's position and philosophical and literary acumen in the intervening years. Finally, and most crucially, Buckle Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002 150 Book Reviews establishes the value of the Enquiry by contrast with that of the Treatise, and, contrary to the opinion of legions of commentators, offers a coherent unified interpretation of the Enquiry, in which the novelty and significance of the later writing emerges clearly. If we are to see the Enquiry in its true nature as a distinctively Enlightenment tract, Buckle recognizes that the book must be understood to stand on its own terms, as an original work whose special message should be grasped as something more than a restatement of Hume's Treatise conclusions. The Enquiry, if Buckle is right, is not merely a reformulation intended to procure for Hume, as he states in an unfortunate expression that Buckle is at pains to set right in its historical context, "a certain literary fame." The Enquiry has many points of affinity with the Treatise. It is, for all that, a different project of the later Hume, reflecting an evolved set of preoccupations , especially involving his ambivalent fideism or atheism in the philosophy of religion, and his disavowal of the Enlightenment's favored argument from design for the existence of God. Rather than extract from Hume's first Enquiry passages and whole chapters isolated from the argument structure to which they belong, Buckle demands to understand the book as a whole, and to interpret its connecting themes that other less patient or penetrating and attentive commentators have overlooked. What has been especially lacking in more standard treatments of Hume's first Enquiry, Buckle maintains, is a good understanding of Hume's later skepticism, and how it fits exactly into his theory of perception and knowledge within the application of the experimental method in philosophy, progressing from epistemology to philosophical anti-theology, with chapters pursuing a consecutive series of topics from the origin and association of ideas to skepticism, probability, necessary causal connection, necessity and liberty, the reasoning abilities of animals, miracles, and the concept of a particular providence and possibility of an afterlife. Buckle's book is divided into three parts, "Approaching the Text," "The Argument," and "Conclusion." The "Conclusion," however, is barely five pages long, and as such hardly deserves to rank as a distinct part. Knowing that the work grew out of Buckle's lectures on Hume's Enquiry at the University of Sydney, Australia, in 1993-98, it is tempting to imagine the second main part of the book as a revision of Buckle's seminar commentary on Hume's original text, and the first part providing context for the commentary in the form of Buckle...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 149-153
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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